Too much of Though, I'm Just Me buries the charming singer under over-the-top instrumentation and an icky-sweet musical theater feel.
Swedish-Japanese singer-songwriter Maia Hirasawa certainly has her own quirky charm. Her debut, Though, I'm Just Me, is as simultaneously off-kilter and simple as the album's title. Her best stuff puts her full-throated voice up front, as she grins and giggles through tales of love, both lost and found. The first three songs -- "Still June", "Crackers", and "Mattis & Maia" -- are all pleasant pop songs. They have small flourishes of instrumentation, with the occasional surge of strings or bleat of horns, but most mostly they feature Hirasawa's playful singing first and foremost. These songs, even when they get overly precious and mention things like finding people on MySpace, work as infectious and bubbly pop.
From there, however, Hirasawa loses the thread. Much of the rest of Though, I'm Just Me actually buries the singer under over-the-top instrumentation. There is a musical theater feel to the bigness of much of these songs, but these big towers are built on flimsy foundations. This is small, contained pop music posing as something bigger. The saccharin piano balladry of "Star Again", the off-broadway chorus sound of "Gotherburg", the fluffy pop of "And I Found This Boy" could be a sitcom theme song. If sitcom's still had theme songs. It is fitting that Hirasawa has a song here called "Me and You and Everyone We Know" because, like the Miranda July film of the same name, these songs call more attention to their structure, to the artifice around her emotions, than to the emotions themselves. It really is too bad, because when she strips that all away, Hirasawa can be delightful. Maybe in the future, she'll trust her voice a little more.